DES MOINES, Iowa — The country has plenty of pork. Now what the U.S. pork industry needs are people to eat it, both at home and abroad.
“Plenty of pork, plenty of slaughter capacity, but somebody has to eat this stuff,” said Len Steiner, president of Steiner Consulting Group, in Merrimack, New Hampshire.
Steiner was one of three ag economists who spoke about the third-quarter U.S. Department of Agriculture Hogs and Pigs Report numbers that were released Sept. 27.
The third-quarter numbers show record numbers of pigs in various weight and production categories and also showed an industry that has no intention of easing up on producing pork anytime soon.
But who will buy that pork remains the big unknown for the U.S. pork industry, with expectations and hopes hinging on China and the U.S. and China reaching a resolution to the ongoing trade war sooner rather than later.
“We are estimating that next year, in 2020, we are going to have to export about 26.2% of all the pork production in the country. Certainly, the bet is on China and if China comes in here for big numbers, our 26.2% may be too light, in which case hog prices will be heading higher,” Steiner said.
The third-quarter report, which measures the numbers of pigs on hand as of Sept. 1, showed record numbers in several categories.
All hogs and pigs, at 77.678 million, was up 3.4% from a year ago and above analysts’ pre-report estimates of up 2.9%. That number set a new record.
The market herd, at 71.248 million, was up 3.5% from a year ago and slightly larger than pre-report estimates of up 3%, also set a record.
The June-August pig crop, at 35.506 million, up 2.9% from a year ago and slightly more than the pre-report expectations of up 2.4%, set a new record.
The June-August pigs saved per litter, at 11.11, was 3.6% larger than a year ago and significantly larger than pre-report estimates of up 2.4%.
For Joe Kerns, president of Kerns and Associates in Ames, Iowa, the report expressed optimism, in that producers are confident to continue to produce large numbers of pigs.
“The folks we work with, I am proud to tell them we are in a growth industry. I think this is a healthy problem that we have, that we continue to raise more animals. It is not an accident and I think it’s a sign of some optimism within the industry,” Kerns said.
Ron Plain, professor emeritus at the University of Missouri at Columbia, said that there appears to be ample slaughter capacity to keep up with the large numbers of pigs that are and will be produced.
Plain said the week ending Sept. 14 saw the second largest slaughter ever, at 2,632,118 hogs harvested that week, behind the week ending Dec. 22, 2018. The preliminary numbers for the weekend ending Sept. 28 stood at 2,646,000, and were likely to set another record.
“Lots of pigs, lots of records and hopefully, it looks like we’ve probably got enough slaughter capacity to handle it,” Plain said.